When Dina Horgan received an e-mail from the Kansas State Department of Education, she wasn’t even sure it was for real.

When Dina Horgan received an e-mail from the Kansas State Department of Education, she wasn’t even sure it was for real.

“You get so much junk mail,” she noted, “but when I saw that it was about Education Testing Services, I decided I’d better make a phone call. I’m glad I did.”

Horgan, Title I reading specialist at the Cherokee Attendance Center and USD 247, learned that she had been nominated by Dr. Susan Knell and Dr. Carolyn Fehrenbach of the Pittsburg State University curriculum and instruction department to attend an August ETS conference at Princeton, N.J.

There was a short application form attached to the e-mail, and Horgan filled it out.
“This was on Thursday, and I found out the following Monday that I was accepted,” Horgan said.

ETS is a private nonprofit organization devoted to educational measurement and research, primarily through testing. Among those tests are the SAT, GRE, TOEFL and licensure for different types of specialties.

Horgan’s conference dealt with the Praxis Series, tests which are taken by individuals entering the teaching profession as part of the certification process required by many states and professional licensing organizations.

“In particular, this was about licensing in the state of Kansas to be a reading specialist,” she said.

Horgan, of course, has personal experience with this.

“I had to pass the Praxis test myself,” she noted.

There were two panels at the conference.

“I was on the first panel, which had 19 people from across the United States,” Horgan said. “There was a cross section of experience, from those who had been teaching for many years to one who was in her first year of being a reading specialist.”

She said that the panel began by looking at the licensing standards set by the panel before them.

“Then, by a very specific process, we looked at those standards to see if they should be changed, and how to change them,” Horgan said. “Then we went through the context of the test based on the standards we had gone over.”

Through a very precise statistical rating that was fed through a computer, a cut score was obtained. This score is what a person needs to pass in order to be a reading specialist.
The conference took two days.

“ETS has its own conference center, and we were able to tour the Princeton University campus,” Horgan said. “We also had a few hours, so we rode the train into New York City and saw Ground Zero.”

It was interesting, but Horgan said she experienced culture shock.

“I wouldn’t want to live there,” she said.

An area native, Horgan is a graduate of Frontenac High School and comes from a family with several teachers. Her mother-in-law, Mary Ann Horgan, taught 45 years at the Cherokee Attendance Center, and her brother, Mike Hogard, teaches at Pittsburg High School.

“I got a bachelor of science in education from PSU in 1991, but at that time it was difficult to find a teaching job, and I wanted to stay in this area,” Horgan said. “I went on and got a master’s degree in psychology from PSU and my goal was to be a school psychologist. Then life happened. I met my husband, Bryan, and had my kids, Bryan Mitchell and Erin. I was able to stay home with them until they go into school, which was very important to my husband and me.”

After her children were in school, Horgan went back to substitute teaching. She said that she didn’t exactly choose to become a reading specialist.

“It kind of chose me,” Horgan said. “I was part-time Title I and part-time para with Madeline Smith, the Title I reading specialist at Cherokee. I learned a lot from Madeline. I’m lucky to have been around a lot of great educators who had a big impact on me and that I’ve learned a lot from. When Madeline retired, I got the full-time Title I job.”

She also earned her second master’s degree, this one in reading.

Horgan said that she works mainly with youngsters in the primary grades, giving extra support with the reading curriculum to children who need an extra boost with their reading skills. She also guides the process of the Multi-Tiered System of Support at the school.

“I do all the testing and a lot of data analyzing for this program,” she said. “This enables us to be able to identify the special areas in which a child may need reading intervention.”

Horgan loves her work, but noted that times are hard now in education.

“Teachers are constantly being asked to do more with less,” she said. “People think that being a teacher is nine months of work and three months off, but it’s not that way. Teachers are constantly going back for more education, and many of them teach during the summer. It’s not an 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. job, either.”

Regardless of the frustrations, Horgan said, teachers keep plugging along, doing their best for their students.

“We always have our students in the forefront of our minds,” Horgan said. “I’m glad that reading chose me.”

She’s also glad that she was chosen for the Princeton conference.

“It was a great experience and a great honor,” she said. “If you’d told me 20 years ago that I’d be sitting here with two master’s degrees and been to New Jersey, I’d have said you were crazy.”